Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Future Mother-in-Law is Judgmental of Body Size”

I am engaged to the love of my life and, thankfully, have a very good relationship with the majority of his family, including his mother. She is a generous and warm-hearted woman who has been nothing but welcoming to me in their family. She is also extremely judgmental about body size. At present, this causes no friction between us: I am a size 0 long-distance runner and she frequently compliments my figure. I’ve been inviting her on bridal gown shopping trips (only because we live in the same city and my own mother doesn’t) and she gushes over how wonderful I’ll look in the dresses while disparaging her own daughters’ bodies the whole time in comparison (they are both heavy). I’ve also heard her make frequent critical remarks over the body sizes of strangers and others in her life.

Part of me thinks that because I’m not currently a target of this, it’s not my fight to fight. But I can’t promise to be a size 0 forever, and I want to know that as I age and have children she will continue to love and accept me as much as she does now. Is this something I need to address now? Or never, if this is something a child can address but a daughter-in-law can’t? My husband-to-be has his own scars from growing up in this environment (men are not exempt) but his opinion is that if I gain weight and she starts making nasty comments about it, so be it- I’m marrying him, not her. I would hate to lose the warm relationship I have with her over a potential future 15 pounds, but I’m also a person who thinks that no one should be judged for the size or shape of their body. — Not Exempt Forever

It’s unfortunate that your future MIL has this character flaw and that you have the reasonable fear that it may affect your future relationship with her should you ever become the subject of her criticism. It’s understandable that you would not only want to nip any future tension in the bud now but also challenge your MIL’s hurtful views; however, I think you’re right that this has potential to affect the warm relationship you currently enjoy with her. Your husband is giving you indirect advice to stay quiet, based on his own personal experience with his mother. You also have the indirect guidance of his two sisters, both of whom are currently subject to their mother’s judgment. Their response to their mother should inform your own response. If they are mostly ignoring her and shrugging her off, then this might be the best course of action for you one day if you’re in their boat.

Since you aren’t currently in their boat because you have a body type your future MIL approves of, you can gently guide her away from her disparaging comments about others with responses that theoretically end the conversation. You can respond with, “I don’t think someone’s body type is reflective of their character or values and shouldn’t be up for discussion.” Or, “Their bodies are really none of my business.” Or, even, “I celebrate diversity of all kinds, including body types.” Or, even: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way they look.”

As you transition into the role of daughter-in-law, it’s going to be important to pick your battles as you navigate this relationship for the years to come. I wouldn’t start with a battle right off the bat, especially when it doesn’t directly concern you at the moment and the people it does directly concern either don’t know what your MIL is saying about them (and may not even care!) or have been dealing with her comments all their lives and have developed their own coping mechanisms already (like ignoring her, probably). If you get along with your fiancé’s sisters, focus on fostering strong relationships with them so that you are better positioned to have them as allies in the family should you ever need them to fill that role for you. You don’t need to be their defender or protecter in order to foster a strong relationship – they’ve been managing fine without you for long enough. Just be their friend, and they may share insight with you that can be a valuable tool in dealing with your MIL moving forward.

My boyfriend, “Fred,” and I dated for six years. During that time we went on a break twice and we broke up once. All by his request. When we broke up, he said he didn’t see a future with me and wanted to take a break. During that time I was, of course, upset, and I drank a lot. During a drunken moment I hooked up with one of his friends.

When my boyfriend and I got back together, I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want him to lose his friendship and I didn’t want to lose him. Well, he found out about it earlier this year and it turned into an episode of friends where Ross and Rachel talk about the break. So now he and I are officially on break because he wants to process the situation, and he keeps saying I cheated. I understand that he wants to process it and that each break has its own rules. During the current break he’s actually communicating more, which is fantastic. However, he just told me he still thinks about it on some days and on other days he doesn’t. I don’t want to lose the relationship we have. How do I handle the situation? I don’t want to go ghost-mode like a lot of people say to do because he is sensitive. How do I help him process this and see that we can make it through this? — We Were on Break


 

I’m not sure you can make it through this. You’ve had six years to make your relationship work and it still doesn’t. Here you are on your third break, months after your boyfriend starting processing the idea of your sleeping with his friend. I think in this case, “I need time to process” is code for “I’mma keep you on the back burner while I explore some other options.” And he gets to make all the rules, huh? He decides when you take breaks, when they become breakups, and what goes or doesn’t go during the breaks. And you manage all of this by getting upset, drinking a lot, and making bad sex choices.

I’m wondering: Are you addicted to the drama, maybe? Staying for six years in a dysfunctional relationship in which the only control you get to have is, arguably, revenge sex is a great way to keep the drama alive. And if you thrive on drama, then drinking through your breakups and getting back with someone without any resolution to the problems that forced you apart in the first place is also a good way to keep the drama going. Here’s the thing though: life is better without the drama.

I know addictions are hard to overcome. It’s why they’re called addictions. But there’s support for you. There’s therapy, your friend support system, and perhaps AA if you feel your drinking crosses the line.

***************Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram. If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

17 comments… add one
  • avatar

    brise September 10, 2020, 3:19 pm

    LW1: First, don’t take your future MIL for dress shopping trips. What a strange idea! Second: react when she does such awful remarks. Say at least: “Why do you say that?” whith a genuine confuse look. Why a mother would say such a mean and hurtful thing about her own daughters? Don’t let it pass, congratulating yourself to be thin. Call her on this. “I don’t like such comments, please stop.” And treat her like a MIL, not a best friend. Don’t you have a bridesmaid for your shopping trips? She is not your best pal. Set some distance here, stat!
    LW2: your relationship is dead.
    LW2

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    • avatar

      A Lurker September 11, 2020, 7:03 am

      Aside from this specific situation where the MIL is strangely fixated on body shapes, is it really weird to take your MIL dress shopping? Both you and the Poster talk about it like it’s unusual! I’m not from the US so I wonder if it’s considered inappropriate there?

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      • avatar

        ktfran September 11, 2020, 8:46 am

        It’s not weird or unusual in the U.S.

        Some people do. Some don’t. It’s really preference.

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    FYI September 10, 2020, 5:53 pm

    “I’m also a person who thinks that no one should be judged for the size or shape of their body.”
    Nope. It doesn’t seem like you ARE that person. At all. You’re staying quiet while she sh1ts on people. It’s not at all hard to say, “Oh, I think they look great.” I mean, seriously? This woman’s behavior is in now way generous, warm-hearted, or welcoming. Why do you think that?!?

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  • avatar

    Miss MJ September 10, 2020, 6:02 pm

    So, my advice here is to proceed with extreme caution, LW1, and rethink the closeness of the relationship you want to have with this woman. First, because she’s causing you anxiety that as a size 0, you might gain 15 pounds and not be beloved — that…is a not good way to live and it’s obvious she’s raised her children that way. Second, as you age, you will inevitably gain weight, children or not, which will subject you to her nasty barbs, which will hurt. (And trust me, any woman who runs down her own kids to you will eventually run down you. ) But also, because if you do have children, then any children you have will be exposed to this toxic mindset. Maybe your daughter or son will not inherit the “skinny” gene. Can you imagine watching your child suffer through the cutting remarks your future MIL jabs at her children? Because she definitely will. I just…distance yourself now. Please.

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  • avatar

    ktfran September 10, 2020, 7:25 pm

    This is so true. I was the one grandchild with a body type my paternal grandparents approved of (I have the same body type as my grandma, long legs-thin) They did make hurtful remarks to my cousins and sisters. It is hurtful. Don’t let this happen to future potential children.

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    • avatar

      Miss MJ September 10, 2020, 8:25 pm

      Yeah. I was the “thin” one, too And, I’ve suffered from an eating disorder ever since. I’ve been a size 00 for forever, but turned 40 and, I dunno, become more of a size 0 and the brainwashing from my upbringing is making me hate myself for gaining that few pounds.

      Don’t do this to yourself or potential children, LW. Stop it now.

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  • avatar

    Classic September 10, 2020, 9:32 pm

    WWS
    You can just speak up, right away, in your normal voice.
    You can say any of the following (and lots more):
    1. Oh, it really doesn’t matter how much people weigh.
    2. They look beautiful to me! I really don’t think anyone should be defined by their weight.
    3. Oh, I wouldn’t generalize based on body size. People are all so different, and that’s a good thing!

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  • avatar

    em September 11, 2020, 8:15 am

    LW1: I suggest googling “a request from your fat friend”; the author in that post and thruout her blog offers ways straight sized people can be supportive while staying in your lane. (the first article that comes up is the one I have in mind)

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  • avatar

    Clover September 11, 2020, 9:14 am

    My mother is very much like your MIL. I grew up so immersed in her judgmental comments that they became the white noise of my childhood; I didn’t realize how pervasive they were and how much they affected me until years later.

    In my 40s, I found myself full-time-parenting a stepdaughter with an eating disorder who loved visiting my parents in the country, and I finally had a reckoning with my mother on her behalf: “The comments about weight and bodies and food have got to stop. One such comment and I’m booking us home on the next flight. I mean it.”

    My mother complained bitterly about being censored, but she kept her hurtful thoughts to herself.

    Ultimately my marriage failed, so there are no longer stepkids in the picture. I realized that I wanted to continue to enforce the no-body-comments policy on my own behalf. “Please don’t say things like that around me,” I tell her when it happens. She makes faces, and I’m sure she gripes to my dad and her friends that I’m a PC shrew, but I don’t care. It’s worth it to not hear about so-and-so’s muffin top.

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  • avatar

    JustLooking September 11, 2020, 9:18 am

    LW1 – Because it isn’t your problem (yet) you’re in a unique position to show her how weird and inappropriate her comments are. Unless you secretly enjoy her approval which happens yo the best of us, specially if your own mother doesn’t live nearby.
    Also, with MILs and bosses a certain distance is always recommend

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  • avatar

    Helen September 11, 2020, 1:19 pm

    LW1, if you feel close with your MIL you could always be truthful with her. Next time she remarks negatively on someone’s body tell her when you hear those remarks you’re sad because you wonder what she’ll say about you if you gained a few pounds. I’ll stress what others have said, if you have kids don’t allow her to make any comments on bodies (negative or positive!) in front of your kid. Make a dramatic exit

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  • avatar

    KWu September 11, 2020, 1:29 pm

    I think it might be worth considering that never saying anything could negatively affect trying to develop warm relationships with the future sisters-in-law because of OP’s silence being taken for agreement with the MIL’s comments. I was also surprised to see the OP declare themselves as someone who thinks size-/shape-based judgments are wrong because they don’t seem to be living up to that currently.

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  • avatar

    Hazel September 11, 2020, 6:19 pm

    ach, it’s grand that you have a good relationship with her, but for your sister in laws, their kids, your kids, everyone, do try to sort her out on that. It seems like it’s a harmless thing until someone gets a serious eating disorder. And that person might well be her- she sounds like she may be truly fat-phobic and can you imagine if she ended up with one of the many conditions which make weight gain inevitable? You will be doing everyone including her a favour if you can help her take a more nuanced view.

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  • avatar

    Bittergaymark September 12, 2020, 12:38 pm

    LW1). Eh, I think ALL that will be accomplished by speaking up is drama, drama, drama. The future MiL is a vapid and shallow twit. It’s hilariously naive to think the LW can magically make her MIL change her warped outlook… It’s all very wishful thinking.

    LW2) Speaking of wishful thinking. Everybody here would like to see you dump this cad. But hah. Talk about delusional. Nope. Instead you’ll steadfastly cling to this loser till he finally DUMPS you permanently. 🤷‍♂️

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  • avatar

    Hazel September 12, 2020, 5:17 pm

    BGM, you might be right (probably are) that MIL will be reluctant to change,and maybe it is naive to think she might rethink but it’s better for LW to dissociate herself from this toxicity towards body size/difference and it might make MIL at least realise that there are views other than her own. It never harms to speak up. Sounds like there are a few people in the family who need spoken up for. They may appear like they don’t give a shit what she says but don’t we all try to do that doesn’t mean it hasn’t stung a bit.

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  • avatar

    Sea Witch September 13, 2020, 8:47 pm

    If any of LW1’s future children are girls, she will have to be on guard constantly for her MIL making disparaging remarks about her own daughter’s body.
    This was the subject of a long ago Dear Prudence letter.
    https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/01/dear-prudence-fat-shaming-grandma-is-on-her-deathbed.html

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